7 Reflections on Charleston, Racism, Social Media, and the Gospel

Charleston Church Sunrise

It’s been a week since that tragic night at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  In this week, while I’ve posted some statements on social media, I’ve avoided writing a blog post, because my feelings were too raw.  Now I believe I too can  articulate some thoughts on the events and issues surrounding the murders that occurred in Charleston last week.

First, make no mistake, racism is the evil that drove Dylann Roof to murder nine innocent people last week.  Roof’s statements that night, overheard by witnesses, indicate such hatred.  His manifesto drips with racist vitriol towards African-Americans and other races.  Still shots from his video show him burning an American flag and waving a Confederate battle flag as a symbolic acts pointing to his racist ideology. So, yes, Dylann Roof is responsible for the murder of nine innocent people; however, his racism is the motivating factor in the crime.

Second, the victims’ family members presented a powerful witness of the forgiveness and grace that only a Christ follower can extend to his/her enemies.  At the bond hearing, we heard them forgiving Roof in the midst of their pain.  One family member shared the gospel with Roof and implored him to give his life to Christ.  These family members exemplified how the gospel overcomes hate.

Third, we see the power of the Holy Spirit and the unity of the Church at work in Charleston.  Churches and church leaders from all around the country converged on the city to show support to their brothers and sisters at Mother Emanuel AME Church.  The message from the Christians in Charleston is one of love, peace,  hope in the midst of grief, and forgiveness–the gospel.  It’s been moving to see the power of the Church unified.  We need to see such unity more when there is not a national tragedy.

Fourth, an article from Dr. Russ Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, shows how God can help Americans, Southerners in particular, apply the gospel in addressing racism.  Moore clearly articulates that the offense of African-Americans at the presence of the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the capitol in South Carolina is a spiritual problem.  Using Scripture, he rightly focuses the issue on being at peace with all men (Romans 14:19) and addressing aspects of our heritage that fly in the face of the gospel (1 Peter 1:18).

Fifth, interaction with individuals on social media reminds us that, for some people, spiritual issues will always bow to political dynamics.  Regardless of how many times I pointed people on Twitter and Facebook towards a spiritual motivation for removing the Confederate battle flag, they consistently responded by citing some politician’s comments or a particular party’s stance on the issue.  Even when faced with Christ’s words, “And as you wish others would do to you, do so to them.”(Luke 6:31 ESV), respondents on social media refused to ascend above a political debate to consider the spiritual dynamics of the issue.

Sixth, our countrymen in general, and the media in particular, follow a pattern of making complex issues simplistic through trite cliches and sound bites.  Throughout this past week, social media drowned in a sea of generalizations, caricatures, and stereotypes.  Rather than talking or writing to each other, so many of us talk at each other.  If we make progress on the issue of racism, it will occur when we listen to each other as well as share our viewpoints.  This discussion also demands that we lose the stereotypes and the self-serving sound bites.

Seventh, the gospel is still the key to reconciling men to God and men to each other.  Ultimately, we will not solve the problem of racism or any other societal problem through mere legal action or social change.  People can abide by laws and social mores, yet carry hatred in their hearts towards their fellow human beings.  When the gospel transforms our hearts, and we love God through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ compels us to love our neighbor as well.  We cannot claim the name of Christ Jesus and carry hatred and prejudice against our neighbor.  The events of this past week reiterate the need for Christians, in unity, to profess the gospel of Jesus Christ with their lives and with their lips.  Only the gospel can change hearts and replace hatred with love.  And yes, as one of the victims’ family members so eloquently stated at the bond hearing, it can even change the heart of Dylann Roof.

 

Tim McKnight has 21 years of experience in ministry. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He earned his Ph.D. in Evangelism, with additional studies in missions and church history, from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He co-founded Carolina Family Planning Centers and founded Twin Vision Consultants, a church consultation team that helps congregations become healthy and growing churches. He has also served as a disaster relief chaplain in multiple settings in recent years, including in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. He now serves at Anderson University as Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry and Missions.

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